Today there is an interesting convergence of four related facts.
(1) The Obama Administration released its proposed budget for NASA for the next few years. It is pretty much "business as usual" with the notable exception of an increase in funding for earth-monitoring satellites. (See: Space.com Obama's NASA Budget Draws Mixed Reviews)
(2) Star Trek 11 came out. (See Time: Box Office Weekend: Star Trek Conquers the Universe)
(3) The Space Shuttle Atlantis is lifting off for the last and final repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. (See CNN: Shuttle Atlantis ready for liftoff)
(4) The team running the Kepler Space Telescope will have a meeting today to discuss whether the results of two months of calibration are over and the telescope can start to collect real data. (See: Kepler News: News Releases and Updates)
The Kepler Space Telescope, by the way, will watch a region of over 100,000 stars for signs that those stars dim slightly as a planet passes between it and the Earth. It is capable of finding earth-size planets in the habitable zone around a star – planets capable of supporting life.
These four events all relate to a virtue, in a desire-utilitarian sense. This virtue is a passion to move out beyond our current and comfortable boundaries and to take the risk – to partake in the adventure – of moving beyond those boundaries. In this case, into space.
There will come a time when the only survivors of the human race will be those who have moved off of this rock and into space. If, when that day comes, there are not enough people living in space, then humans will have become yet another extinct species.
The same is also true of every other species that we currently know about. For everything from humpback whales to simple grass, the only representatives of that species (or its evolutionary descendents) will be those that humans move into habitats off of earth.
The Hubble Space telescope has shown us forces that could destroy a planet. There are forces that can tear apart solar systems, and even forces that can sterilize whole sections of galaxies, but we must deal with one issue at a time.
Anything from a gamma ray burst to a comet impact to rogue black holes. The universe could destroy humanity without even the slightest twinge of conscience. It can also use disease or climate change to bring about the same end.
Of course, we also have the ability to be the agents of our own extinction.
Plus, there is a possibility that there are beings out in the universe already who have no intention of sharing the universe with us. They will want the universe all to themselves. If they should exist, and if we are not able to defend ourselves from them, then they will get their wish.
It has almost certainly already happened. Some civilization has already ended, at the hands of nature, or of some external aggressor, or at their own hands. Nature does not care to preserve us, and will take no pains to do so other than those that we take to preserve ourselves.
One important use of the tools of praise and condemnation is to praise and encourage those who look up and see a future for humanity in places other than Earth, and to condemn those who suggest that we should keep all of humanity’s eggs in this one planetary basket. The love of adventure and of exploration, if sufficiently well encouraged and if nature gives us enough time, can be the survival of humanity.
The promotion of a bunker mentality – of the attitude that we should not look up and out – is a threat to the survival of the human race.
It is not wholly evil for a person to suggest that the money that goes into the colonization of space be spent, instead, on the problems that we have here on Earth. At the very least, they are showing some concern for those problems. However, we will never solve all of the problems of earth until the earth itself is yet another lifeless sphere in space – and that is not an acceptable way of eliminating those problems.
So, while such a person is not wholly evil, they are being foolish. And foolishness is not a virtue. It is not a trait worthy of praise.
Parents, teachers, as well as authors and movie producers, who turn a child's life up into space as a future home of humanity, will be encouraging those children to help to secure a future for all of humanity. It would be a good use of those tools.